Chaos In The Streets (Cultural Differences VIII)


I had been told that Germans celebrate the New Year with fireworks. Experiencing that was far more intense than the description.

In Canada fireworks are a controlled affair for the most part. If a holiday is deemed important enough to warrant such pyrotechnics, it is usually the municipality that stages the show. Safety concerns are paramount. Individuals in my experience don’t make many purchases unless they are going to be somewhere where there is no municipal celebration. It doesn’t work that way here.IMG_20180101_0010423

I had noted in the weeks leading up to December 31 that area grocery stores were advertising fireworks. I have seen that in Canada in recent years, but am still not used to it. When I was growing up in Montreal in the 1960s you couldn’t buy fireworks, at least not legally.

In Germany people buy fireworks to bring in the New Year. And I gather there are no restrictions.

I heard the first firecrackers going off just after noon Sunday. Children I presume, who weren’t going to be allowed to stay up until midnight. (At midnight though I doubt anyone in town was sleeping – it was very loud.) After it got dark (around 5 p.m.) there were sporadic explosions throughout the evening coming from different areas of town. As the evening wore on the explosions came more frequently. Since there was no organized celebration such as is held on Ottawa’s Parliament Hill it was every person or family for themselves.IMG_20180101_0009457

At midnight things ratcheted up a notch. Several notches in fact.

We saw the New Year arrive with the same group of friends we always celebrate with, a tradition for almost three decades. The technology is such that we could toast the New Year together (though it was only 6 p.m. for them) and they could watch the fireworks exploding out our window. When they went to eat dinner together, we ventured out into the city streets.

You could see the smoke and smell the gunpowder as soon as we opened the door of our building, half a block from the main street, which seemed to be where most of the explosions were coming from, judging by what we could see from our window.IMG_20180101_0020227

There we found several hundred people, an impressive turnout for a town with perhaps 1,700 inhabitants. Some were just watching, but many people were setting off the fireworks they had purchased. For once I was pleased it was raining – that made it seem a little safer to me, though perhaps not for the few drivers who were trying to leave town after midnight. The main street was the primary launch pad for the celebrations. The open-air bar in the market square was doing a booming business. I’m not quite sure what the fire in the middle of the street was for.

Maybe I’m getting too old for these things. It certainly was the loudest fireworks I have ever heard. That may be because many of the explosions were taking place not in the air but on the street, some within a few feet of where I was standing. I don’t know if that was deliberate or just operator incompetence. I just tried to stay out of the way.IMG_20180101_0020458

People were milling around in small groups. All along the street fireworks were going off. It was typical to see someone set down a firework, light the fuse and run. There was a lot of enthusiasm, but the result was nowhere as impressive as the organized displays I am used to.

Those performances though tend to be shorter. Fireworks can be expensive; municipalities have budgets. In Sulzburg the party continued until around 1:30 a.m. At least that is when the explosions stopped; I wasn’t going to stand in the rain for that long. I also hear one late reveller set off an explosion at 6:30 a.m. on the first, which I am sure didn’t endear him to those sleeping off the effects of late-night drinking.

I’m not sure how I feel about this sort of citizen celebration. It struck me as rather dangerous, akin to those Middle Eastern countries where celebrations involve emptying an AK-47 magazine into the air. But is nice to see a celebration that isn’t funded by the taxpayers. I guess I could get used to that.


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